Pelita Hati offers its take on what futuristic inventions might have looked like in a past different from what history books tell us.
IMAGINE a mad inventor from the past gone wild, and you’ll have an idea what Pelita Hati Gallery of Art currently looks like. There are cogs, gears, pressure gauges and metal parts everywhere you look, whether you are admiring a bizarre contraption on display, a fantastical creature immortalised, an article of clothing on a mannequin, or the toilet door – which has been made over to look like one in a steam engine room.
In fact, the entire art gallery has been transformed into something resembling a steam engine room filled with an assortment of strange-looking mechanical objects, unusual anachronistic sculptures and wall reliefs.
The seventh instalment of the annual Ilham exhibition has a name that says it all: In the words of Pelita Hati managing director Raja Annuar, Ilham VII – Steampunk marries the design aesthetic of the 1800s with the functionality of modern technology.
“This is what I imagine it would look like if someone took all the what ifs from the industrial revolution era and brought it into the future,” he says.
“It is like the Wild West meets Alice in Wonderland, it is science fiction and fantasy…plus a whole lot of imagination.”
Focusing on sculptures and installation works, this Steampunk-inspired project presents a mishmash of the old and new. Seemingly random bits and bobs – a bolt here, a screw there, a series of gears to round it off – are combined to create unique and expressive pieces. If one were to take any of these objects on display apart, it would probably be difficult to visualise that the individual parts could come together so elegantly.
“I have been thinking about having a Steampunk themed exhibition ever since I read a book on Steampunk sculptures two years ago,” says Raja, who, in the spirit of the Steampunk theme, wore a black top hat fitted with a pair of modified goggles to the exhibition’s opening night.
During a tour of the gallery with this writer, he flips a switch and a robotic-looking figure comes to life with a screech and a clang.
“I like many of the works in this exhibition and I love the ambiance it lends to the gallery. I personally find the functional art pieces the most interesting – works that have moving bits, and have some use. And of all these works, Omong-Omong Kosong by Ali Bebit is probably my favourite,” he says, gesturing towards the robot-figure-creature that is now mechanically opening and shutting its mouth.
Not far from this invention, Ayisha Rahman’s Triggers & Thoughts’ cogs and twisted wire surround an old clock positioned beneath a yellowed wedding photograph illuminated by a single lightbulb. Suhaidi Razi’s Mutant sees a hen with a face composed of nuts and bolts roosting in the corner opposite – worthy of a second look if only because it looks like it has been given three beaks. The list goes on: An archaic-looking miniature flying contraption looks ready to take (shaky) flight, an oversized scorpion created from old camera casings freezes in mid-strike, and glorious red and white roses burst from the barrel of a gun.
“This flying vehicle is not made to fly, but doesn’t it look like it can? You can see and feel the science behind it even though it can’t fly, and I think that is really intriguing,” he says of the flying contraption by Azzuan Osman.
Of the roses, he relates, “The artist is showing that there is a soft spot even in violence. Such an art piece by Abu Zaki Hadri is not something you see every day, but this is exactly what we want to encourage with an exhibition such as this. The objective is to encourage new ideas, new inspiration, to make sense of things that are in need of repair, that are broken, or that are old.”
If you are looking for gritty yet aesthetically pleasing pieces, then look no further than Nizam Abdullah’s Food For Thought and Shaarim Sahat’s Recycle Man – one is vaguely reminiscent of someone - or something - donning a gas mask, while the other almost looks like it just emerged from the world of Wall-E, an animated sci-fi comedy film set far in the future where robots roam the waste-covered land.
Raja lingers in front of Suhaidi Razi’s Spiral Machine which shows an arm stretching out from what looks like a snail’s shell.
“This reminds me of the Addams family,” he says, making a reference to the fictional family well-known for their eccentricity and love of all things morbid.
“They are both a little bit creepy,” he laughs.
Looking at the art pieces at this exhibition, there is indeed plenty of whimsical in the imperfect, and charm in the reworked.
“It is creative, it is fun, and there’s no limit to where our imagination can lead us,” he says.
Ilham VII – Steampunk is on at Pelita Hati Gallery of Art, 1st Floor, No. 8, Jalan Abdullah, off Jalan Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur till July 20. Tel: 03-20923380; 03-22829206. More details at: www.pelitahati.com.my. Viewing hours: Monday to Saturday (10am-6pm).